Energy Institute

Why do we need different sources of energy for electricity generation? Gas, coal, wind, peat?

We in Ireland depend on having a secure energy supply for our economy and our lives – fuel for transport, domestic and industrial heat processes and electricity for everyday life. Developing a secure Irish supply of power from other sources like wind, coal and peat is a prudent way of ensuring that the lights stay on and avoiding what would be the serious consequences of an energy supply disruption for our economy and society, while at the same times balancing environmental responsibilities and concerns 1.

In addition to security of supply considerations, there is a need to identify and deploy more environmentally friendly energy resources. Indigenous wind, biomass, solar and marine energy have the potential to meet our electricity generation requirements. Being indigenous, renewable, and subject to their cost-effectiveness may also contribute to economic development.

Ireland imports nearly all of its energy needs and our economy, being more dependent than most on oil, is vulnerable to disruptions of supply and price rises of gas and oil 2. We need different sources of energy generation to ensure that, if one supply source were to be disrupted, for example, imported natural gas from Europe, we have the capacity to generate electricity to meet our needs. The Ukraine crisis of 2014 showed that a local disruption to gas supplies can have far reaching consequences 3. All gas-fired power stations in Ireland are required to hold sufficient distillate oil to be able to run for five days if a crisis necessitated it 4.

In the event of a prolonged gas price spike or interruption to gas supply we have peat and coal-powered generation in place that could be used to reduce the shortfall. By having a variety of energy sources, wind included, in the mix we reduce the risk of a total loss of supply and mitigate the impact of a sudden change in the availability or price of any one energy source.

As Ireland’s indigenous resources of Corrib gas and more onshore wind energy come on-stream, the diversity of our energy sources increases and the security of our electricity supply improves. Up until now nearly all of our gas was supplied through a subsea network linked to a single pipeline to Moffat in Scotland. Any problem with that pipeline could have left us without the majority of our gas supply 5,6.

The prices of oil and gas have been extremely unpredictable over the last decade 7. By limiting the amount of gas-fired generation and having a balanced mix of coal, wind and peat we reduce the economic and social impacts of volatile international gas prices 8.